Why CIOs should make the leap to Flutter now

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Ready for an understatement? CIOs today are facing unprecedented pressures.

Competition for customers and developers is white hot. The pace of change in user preferences and technology has never been faster. The costs of maintaining native software stacks are ballooning as a result. CIOs today must understand these trends — and how they connect back to the critical technology decisions that CIOs must make in trying to build productive teams and scalable, efficient, high-performing applications.

At the same time, CIOs must also de-risk shifting user preferences and ship features at the speeds that users are demanding. Today, three market conditions often stand in their way:

  • Ferocious customer competition. Companies are realizing that customer experience today is as much as a differentiator as price and product. Feature velocity is central to excellent customer experience. Customers demand high quality user experiences and fast performance. Apps need to be consistent across platforms and devices, delivering the same seamless and intuitive journeys that end in the same levels of satisfaction. The average household now has 16 connected devices – and users will notice when the experience of one is lacking compared to another.
  • Talent shortage. Developers, however, are not easy to find or retain. Forty million tech positions are unfilled due to a lack of talent, according to one study. Companies are forecast to expand the labor market for developers, analysts and testers by nearly a quarter through 2030.
  • Rising costs. Users demand more and more features at faster speeds. Engineering talent becomes even more in demand as companies seek to satisfy users. So companies pay more to secure talent and ship features more quickly. As developers ship features, however, routine app maintenance and updating can also be expensive, too – exponentially so when managing separate native apps and development teams.

Flutter: A new paradigm shift

So, what can CIOs do to overcome today’s heightening pressures? These market factors typically present technology leaders with three imperfect paths to choose from:

  1. Focus on a specific platform or subset of devices — and neglect customers using the others.
  2. Stand up a dedicated development team for each platform they wish to target, even though coordinating design, engineering, and a host of other processes for multiple teams creates complexity, inefficiency, and waste. This approach also creates risk if and when the team’s skills don’t match the next hot consumer device.
  3. If you already have a web app, use React Native to leverage JavaScript skills to quickly hit both mobile targets. While still very popular, some that have taken this path are not happy with the resulting mobile experience.

Savvy technology leaders, however, are beginning to realize there is an emerging solution to these challenges that CIOs would be remiss to ignore: Flutter, the open source framework for building natively compiled, multi-platform applications from a single codebase. Flutter offers a new, simple approach to multi-platform app development that overcomes many of the drawbacks of other common native and cross-platform development approaches.

As CEO at app development consultancy Very Good Ventures, I first faced these challenges when the team from Broadway’s Hamilton: The Musical came to us with app feature requirements that had to look and function beautifully on every device. Flutter streamlined these bottlenecks and helped us deliver the Hamilton app in three months, which has since been downloaded over 3.5 million times and used monthly by half a million theatergoers. Since then, we’ve replicated our success and transformed the development capabilities of enterprises big and small with Flutter.

What is Flutter?

Flutter is a leading multi-platform software development framework to develop apps that run anywhere for every screen. Released by Google in 2017, it employs a single codebase and a friendly developer experience to create natively compiled applications. Using the popular Dart programming language, Flutter has grown more secure, dependable, and versatile with the introduction of new versions and features over the years.

Flutter is now the most popular cross-platform builder, according to JetBrains’s 2021 State of Developer Ecosystem survey. Developers have used Flutter to build 500,000 apps.

Companies like Alibaba, Toyota, and Betterment are using Flutter. Paired with innovations like hot reload, Flutter is improving the developer experience, helping dev teams work more closely together, and bringing more features to market faster and in a more scalable way.

Why use Flutter?

CIOs are understandably concerned about transitioning to a new technology. They want to know if they can hire developers who can use Flutter, and they need to think about what to do with the development teams they’ve assembled. Flutter’s engineering takes many of those concerns into consideration. There are five key points to consider:

  1. Dart is popular. RedMonk analysts recently noted that Dart is rising in the ranks of the most popular programming languages, closing the gap with JavaScript and Python. Stack Overflow’s survey found that Dart is a top 10 “most-loved” language. JavaScript and Swift programmers find Dart especially easy to learn. Many are doing so because Dart and Flutter developers are extremely portable and can work on any platform — an enormous asset amid a talent shortage.
  2. Improved team cohesion. Teams that use Flutter are organized based on the features they are working on rather than on the platform they target. This distinction unlocks efficiency and creativity, as developers can more easily share insights and solutions as they work. Many of our customers tell us that developer satisfaction has improved since moving to Flutter.
  3. Flutter is open source. Because developers can ask both Google’s Flutter team and the broader community for help, Flutter has quickly improved over the past five years. The developer community is robust and growing. Flutter is transparent software that precludes unpleasant surprises.
  4. Longevity. The release of Flutter 3.0 and Dart 2.17 came with a handful of updates that include important investments in the stability and maturity of the software and programming language. Google itself is now using Flutter extensively for its own apps, such as the Google Ads and Google Pay apps. Businesses can rest assured that Flutter is a solution that will be around for the long-term.
  5. More with less. Since Flutter development teams don’t need to build the same feature multiple times for each platform, they can focus on shipping new features. Budgets and resources can be used for value creation rather than replication. Developers can add Flutter-built features to existing apps, too, connecting directly to native codebases. This gives CIOs a chance to see how and whether Flutter suits their needs before making the jump.

Avoid Flutter FOMO

The arguments in favor of Flutter illustrate the urgency of becoming more acquainted with it. Smart CIOs who take a step back and look at the duopoly of the current app marketplace will recognize that businesses should not be maintaining two development teams.

Flutter and cross-platform apps are the future. CIOs who ignore this fact will feel like they are missing out in the next few years as upstarts and competitors use Flutter to iterate their app experiences much faster. A new app development ecosystem that pays no attention to today’s unnecessary platform divisions is taking off, and it’s time to get on board.

David DeRemer is Founder and CEO of Very Good Ventures.

New Tech Forum provides a venue to explore and discuss emerging enterprise technology in unprecedented depth and breadth. The selection is subjective, based on our pick of the technologies we believe to be important and of greatest interest to InfoWorld readers. InfoWorld does not accept marketing collateral for publication and reserves the right to edit all contributed content. Send all inquiries to newtechforum@infoworld.com.

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